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Wielding the Mighty Sword…

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

I met up with some members of my LA-based writing group last week.

It was an act of courage.

Why?

Because writers are strong and fierce warriors. They wield pens like mighty swords.

What are they battling?

The fear of creating. The choking feeling that comes up when faced with a blank page. The fear of exposing their feelings, opinions, desires, secrets… all of which will INEVITABLY come through in their writing.

In an earlier post, I wrote about a writing workshop that I’d taken with Lynda Barry in the Fall of 2008. In that workshop, I made friends with two of my fellow classmates. We formed a writing group. We were joined by two more folks. Five of us met every week at a Starbucks in North Hollywood. We WROTE together every week. We READ to each other every week. It was wonderful.

I was saddened to learn that the group has evolved. Two of the original group have moved on. (I know… I know… Everything’s gotta change.) But two of them still meet on a weekly basis–and they’ve been joined by another writer. The tradition continues!

After a day of speaking at Otis College of Art and Design last week, my good buddy, Jeanie (my Otis “connection” and one of the original folks from my writing group) asked me to come to her house and write. It would be a mini-reunion. We would been writing the way we’d learned from Lynda Barry.

I was exhausted. My throat was sore from the hours of speaking. I was a bit “raw”, at least emotionally–that often happens when I share the details of my own personal struggles and triumphs. I hadn’t slept more than a few hours the night before. And, of course… I said “YES!”

How could I pass up the opportunity to write with some of my buddies?

And how could I pass up the opportunity to really practice SHOWING UP AND SAYING “YES!”

So we sat at two tables on a hill behind Jeanie’s house. There were five of us. One woman was attending for the FIRST TIME. She’d heard about Jeanie’s writing group and decided to take the plunge.

Jeanie offered peaches–fresh from from a peach tree beside the tables. There was a pitcher of water. Someone had brought a bottle of wine to share. We lit incense to keep the mosquitoes away. Evening approached quickly. We lit a lantern. Dogs barked in the distance. I thought I heard a coyote howling.

“Maybe I’ll just watch,” said the woman who was joining in for the first time.

“No,” Jeanie said. “You HAVE to write with us.”

We explained the process that Lynda Barry had taught us. We drew an envelope from the word bag. We prepared our work surfaces. We chose images. We answered 24 questions. We read a poem. We set the timer.

And then we jumped in and wrote. We took the plunge. Together.

The first word was “baseball.” It’s funny how five people can write such compelling (and different!) stories about baseball. Perhaps it’s because we’re all dying to tell our stories. Dying to share. Even though we’re deathly afraid inside.

After the writing, we share. We take turns reading what we’d written. We lower our eyes as we’re read to–it helps to take some pressure off of the reader, who’s reading their words for the first time. No editing allowed.

“Maybe I’ll just listen,” said the woman who was joining for the first time.

“No,” said Jeanie. “You have to share. Trust us…”

The experience is raw. The experience is beautiful.

Out of respect for the other writers, I won’t say what they wrote about that night. I wrote about being a young boy on a baseball team. And the piece was about so much more. It ended up being about my relationship with my mother. Strange how that happens, huh?

So that’s why I say writing is like being a mighty warrior. **Please see the Crooner’s Update at the bottom of the page.**

We show up for the battle. And just like in the movies, the real battle is the “unknown.” We take the plunge together. We surrender to the process. We’re lead down paths we didn’t expect. And we face what comes up–as it comes up.

Writing is a practice that TRULY demands courage.

The woman that joined the group for the first time that night made everyone cry when she read her piece. The piece was beautiful. And knowing that she was sharing in this process of creation was beautiful. She showed up. She said YES .

She trusted the process. She trusted us. And most importantly–she trusted HERSELF.

When she picked up the pen, she wielded a mighty sword.

I think they should set a place for her again this week.

Something tells me she’ll be back…

**Crooner Update (7.29.10)

Tonight I picked up a copy of Laraine Herring’s new book, THE WRITING WARRIOR. I’ve been really excited to read this new work. One of her previous books, WRITING BEGINS WITH THE BREATH, has been a constant companion–a book I keep within arm’s reach at all times. She’s a brilliant writer. She’s a brilliant teacher. She has a way of making sense out of the whole “crazy writing process.”

I was laying in bed and reading the introduction when I started thinking: OH NO! What if it appears I’m stealing images from Laraine Herring?! That’s the LAST thing I want to do!

Did she create phrase WRITING WARRRIOR? I don’t know. I’ve known about the book’s title. Perhaps that’s where the seed was planted. But I mean her no disrespect! She’s my hero!

If you write, you know the courage it takes to face a blank page–and the courage it took that night in Los Angeles for us to come together and write and share with each other. You’d understand why the image of the “writing warrior” stood out in my mind.

PLEASE buy Laraine’s books. They’re wonderful. You can pick them up at your favorite bookstore. You can order them through your favorite online seller. But please check ‘em out. She’s a master teacher. I learn from her every time I open one of her books.

I love her work. I know you will, too…

8 Responses to “Wielding the Mighty Sword…”

  1. Lindsay says:

    Thanks so much for this post Jason and for sharing it with me!

  2. mariko says:

    Just picked up an issue of the Comics Journal because it had an interview with Lynda Barry. Favorite quote: “it’s funny this idea of freeing the unconscious. I don’t think I can free it. I think it can free me, but I’m not sure I can do much to it. I think it’s plenty free and I”m kind of like its Beanie Baby.”

  3. Aimee says:

    Wow, Jason, I really needed to read this. I’ve been using reasons not to go to my writing group lately, and then they took a break when I was starting to feel like “showing up” again. I felt like the momentum I had been struggling to build was gone, but this post reminds me again that it’s not just about building up momentum for a short period of time, or a certain piece, but for every single day. Thank you, my dear friend, for reminding me to show up every day.

    Aimee

  4. Aunt wendy says:

    Love this Jason, I hope you keep continuing to write!!

  5. Erika Comrie says:

    Wow! How wonderful that writers, who must be brave, make spaces so that they can work together to improve their craft. If only more writers knew about a backyard table with peaches, water, wine….and other writers they could trust.

  6. Sherry says:

    Jason,
    Thank you for this post; it has given me the encouragement I need to forge ahead. It would have been easier to have sat and listened yet I had made a commitment to myself after a year long battle of my own, that I would stop being hesitant and apprehensive to new things and try them and so I showed up and said yes and through my feelings of inadequcy and misfitness (is that even a word?) I participated and enjoyed myself mainly due to the welcoming embrace of the group. It was inspiring and touching and “good”. It was a pleasure sharing and listening and meeting you.
    Thanks – oh, Jeanie called to ask if i’d like to return…I said yes.
    Sherry

  7. jason says:

    **Crooner Update (7.29.10)

    Tonight I picked up a copy of Laraine Herring’s new book, THE WRITING WARRIOR. I’ve been really excited to read this new work. One of her previous books, WRITING BEGINS WITH THE BREATH, has been a constant companion–a book I keep within arm’s reach at all times. She’s a brilliant writer. She’s a brilliant teacher. She has a way of making sense out of the whole “crazy writing process.”

    I was laying in bed and reading the introduction when I started thinking: OH NO! What if it appears I’m stealing images from Laraine Herring?! That’s the LAST thing I want to do!

    Did she create phrase WRITING WARRRIOR? I don’t know. I’ve known about the book’s title. Perhaps that’s where the seed was planted. But I mean her no disrespect! She’s my hero!

    If you write, you know the courage it takes to face a blank page–and the courage it took that night in Los Angeles for us to come together and write and share with each other. You’d understand why the image of the “writing warrior” stood out in my mind.

    PLEASE buy Laraine’s books. They’re wonderful. You can pick them up at your favorite bookstore. You can order them through your favorite online seller. But please check ‘em out. She’s a master teacher. I learn from her every time I open one of her books.

    I love her work. I know you will, too…

  8. mariko says:

    Just picked up a copy of her new book last week-end (note to self stop reading books about writing and start writing more) and it looks terrific.